Belgian and French news sources have said that Alexandre Vinokourov is planning a comeback for 2009. His year-long ban for doping now over, Vinokourov apparently hopes to race for Astana.
Vinokourov, 35, is expected to confirm the news on Sunday.
The Kazakh is a controversial figure. He was forced to quit the Tour de France in 2007, along with the entire Astana team, in the midst of a huge scandal after he tested positive for blood doping. He was then suspended for a year by his federation.
Vinokourov?s initial plan following his ban was to open a health and fitness club in his adopted European home of Nice. But since the ban ended on July 24, Vinokourov has been able to race, and the Kazakh has apparently kept in good shape. He had harboured ambitions to ride the Olympics this summer, as reported at the time by Cycling Weekly. And last week the Kazakh was said to be at the World Championships in Varese, Italy, though not riding.
It is doubtful that the UCI would welcome Vinokourov back to the sport, after he served an extremely lenient one-year ban. And there is also the question of who he would race for. According to L’Equipe, Astana is right at the top of Vinokourov?s wish-list.
Should he return to the Kazakh squad, Vinokourov will find some major changes. His return would coincide with the arrival of Lance Armstrong in 2009, although Vinokourov apparently has let it be known that his targets for the next season would be the Tour of Italy and the World Championships. In 2010, he would then head for the Tour de France.
So far neither Armstrong nor Astana?s team manager, Johan Bruyneel, have made any comment on Vinokourov?s potential comeback. His welcome to Astana may not be as warm as he would like: Vinokourov?s positive, together with those of team-mates Andrei Kashechkin and Matthias Kessler, effectively caused the Kazakh team to be barred from the 2008 Tour.
Vinokourov?s return to Astana would also cause other problems. The combination of the Texan and Alberto Contador in the same squad has already led to Contador expressing fears over his role as team leader in the future. Adding Vinokourov into the mix would make things even more complicated.